Sleeping on the job. Is it a good thing?

Who would have thought that sleeping on the job would become a reality? How do you feel about placing sleeping pods in the workplace, so that your employees can take a rest? A nanna nap. A couple of Zd’s between tasks? It’s novel and happening.

What we do know is that lack of sleep affects our judgment and decision-making capabilities. The longer we are sleep deprived, the worse we become at clarity of thought. And here’s the thing. We are not just talking about overworking, type A’s or unreasonable deadlines that keep us up at night. What about the worriers, the over thinkers and ruminators?

Most of us have had one of those nights. You know, can’t sleep because a job, a task, a deadline is looming, and we have got ourselves in a state. We wake up groggy, tired and grouchy and pack that fatigue up and take it to work. Would the opportunity to take a nap be beneficial?

It brings up, for us at least at TBH, more questions than answers. How do small businesses manage this? Those organisations that have few employees. What work time is lost? What does small delays cost the business? Is it a lunch time thing? Could it replace the coffee break? Who monitors the usage? Who is more likely to use it? Experience would tell that high achievers and performers are less likely to choose to sleep on the job, despite the fact it could be helpful for their wellbeing and output.

Individuals more susceptible to stress are more likely to engage in a sleep break. And that brings us to the concept of how far do workplaces go to get the optimum from their people? Where is the line between personal responsibility for wellbeing and performance on the job and the organisational responsibility to provide healthy and supportive workplace environments? How do you monitor the use or misuse of these innovative ideas? Are we travelling down a slippery slope of morphing workplaces into pseudo psych clinics?

On one hand when we take a job we agree, in exchange for payment, to present ready and capable to complete the job requirements. On the other hand, businesses have a clear responsibility to ensure that while you are at work, you have a safe and productive environment to help you perform your tasks. The bigger question is where, in this exchange, is the tipping point? How do we not encourage mental health dependency and still promote self-motivated and owned resilience?

With the COVID-19 impact more issues are entering the workplaces, that are related, but not exclusively to our jobs. These include;

  • Increased social anxiety.
  • Problems adjusting to returning to work.
  • Hypersensitivity to performance.
  • Lower resilience and coping in conflict.
  • Higher emotional distress readjusting to in person pressure and communication.
  • Increased personal issues (separation, domestic violence, economic, isolation, substance abuse, depression and triggered traumatic memories).
  • Increased anticipatory anxiety (what next?).
  • (COVID emotional tsunami after the global shock).

The question is can workplaces and business owners really manage such an increase of personal mental health issues. Should they be expected to know what to do? If not, what are the alternatives?

Perhaps we need to use language in a more constructive way so our intent at work and in business is clearer. Our investment should be on building resilience, coping capacity and self determination and responsibility. Mental health is a complex issue that workplaces, management and team leaders are not, and should not be expected to, be across at the level we are increasingly expecting them to be. Could we stop overusing the words ‘mental health’ to such a point that everything becomes an ‘illness’ of one sort or another. Many of our reactions, interactions and emotions (including the negative ones) are a very normal, if not uncomfortable, human experience. If all stress requires intervention, if tiredness shifts to a workplace responsibility are we starting to pathologies rather then build resilience. Caring is very different to enabling.

The question we pondered is, instead of creating sleep pods, for example, could we be better at empowering our people to manage, seek assistance and care for their wellbeing. Could resources be directed to expanded EAP programs so they are educational and inspirational resources for employees to look after their wellbeing better? Not just options for when our employee’s mental health is in crisis. Do we need Employer Resilience Programs instead, that all our teams engage in? Individually tailored programs that place the responsibility back on the person to care and look after themselves, to be healthy and ready for their jobs and to know the external supports and options available to help them.

There is a shadow line between providing support in the workplace and enabling dependency on others to resolve personal mental and physical health issues. Support is focused on helping to help ourselves. If workplaces continue to provide mental health answers to personal issues unrelated to the job and the work environment, are we creating a bigger problem than we are trying to resolve?

Much like the helicopter parenting syndrome that has created a level of mental health learned helplessness in children, business  environments must focus on strengthening, growing and supporting our teams to be their optimum self and avoid taking ownership of mental health beyond the primary responsibility of healthy, safe and functional cultures.

Some tips to ponder.

  • Demonstrate compassion and enforce expectations and rules for the workplace.
  • Normalise common human experiences and emotions (not everything is pathological).
  • Build resilience to coping rather treatment focused options.
  • Mental health issues do not excuse unacceptable behaviour (gives context).
  • Be mindful of the difference between support and enabling.
  • Seek professional advice if unsure how to manage issues.
  • The goal is to build individual resilience and personal responsibility for self-care.
  • Workplaces are part of the wider community, link to resources that can help.
  • Don’t let dysfunctional conduct continue unattended, support getting help.
  • Wellness and wellbeing are different to managing mental health and un-wellness.